A Columbia City Council member said his fellow council member’s actions that brought about criminal charges hurts the group’s reputation.
Fifth Ward councilman Matt Pitzer told ABC 17 News that he fears the criminal case of Fourth Ward councilman’s Ian Thomas will affect public perception of the council’s trustworthiness.
Thomas apologized for offering up his support of a request to build a new subdivision in north Columbia in exchange for the developers making a $40,000 donation to the Columbia Community Land Trust. Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson charged Thomas on Thursday with attempting to commit an act prohibited by a public official, a class C misdemeanor. Thomas said he plans to plead not guilty to the charge.
Pitzer said the situation sets the council back in its mission to restore trust between the community and city government.
“It brings back this idea that there are backroom deals being done and things being arranged ahead of time, and you pay enough money to do something and you can get plans approved for a project, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Pitzer said.
Some of Thomas’ allies felt the councilman had good intentions during the deal. Richard King, a Fourth Ward resident and the campaign treasurer for Thomas, told ABC 17 News that Thomas is one of the most unselfish people he’s ever met. King said Thomas’ request for developers to donate to the Community Land Trust came from his desire to increase affordable housing in the city.
“He is looking out for the people, in my opinion, that are the less fortunate, that could use a little help,” King said. “And I believe that’s pretty much what the situation involves.”
Thomas began meeting with the developers of Oakland Crossing, a planned subdivision at Prathersville Road and Oakland Gravel Road in September 2018, according to a probable cause statement written by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. Thomas told them he believed the development was too dense, and asked the group include more affordable homes. When the group said the development was too far along to make that change, they agreed on a contribution to the land trust.
Thomas emailed them saying he would “champion” the project and get council members to support it, according to the statement.
Kim Kraus, a Fourth Ward resident that worked closely with Thomas during the Ridgemont Park development in her neighborhood, called the charge “ludicrous.”
“He is a faithful servant of this community,” Kraus said. “I’m so sad this is happening to him.”
Jason Gavan, a former real estate developer in Columbia who complained about Thomas’ actions to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, felt Thomas should face a stiffer charge.
“On the bright side it is good to see Mr. Thomas is planning to plead not guilty,” Gavan said in an email. “This process should bring to light criminal activity by additional Columbia elected officials.”